Florida - It's not everyday that one thinks of a ratty old pair of track sneakers as being worth as much as a house, but that's exactly what happened at a Sotheby's auction in New York recently.
Falling just under the hammer near $500,000, a pair of (used) Nike track shoes designed by company co-founder Bill Bowerman, set a whopping new record for everyday footwear to be sold at a public auction.
While there was obviously some "fiscal" provenance attached to the sale, as the shoes were associated with Mr. Bowerman, industry insiders were nevertheless stunned by the massive amount paid by a collector in Canada, who planned on displaying the shoes in his car museum outside of Toronto. Less than four years prior, an almost identical pair of the waffle-iron sneakers sold on eBay for just over $11,000, which at the time also came as a shock to many textile collectors.
However, moving from eBay into the big leagues of Sotheby's in such a short a period of time is a clear indicator of just how popular this form of vintage collectible has become. Twenty-four year old Matt Dixon, a young antique dealer in England, who's been collecting for years wasn't that surprised when he heard the news. "Anything with a big name, a designer name, anything that's got any real heritage and credentials is always going to be sought after because it'll always have value."
While this sentiment is often true of most top quality antique and vintage items, it's rarely been applied to everyday footwear in the same manner. Matt says he thinks of sneakers as an investment, just like all his other antiques. "Buying things like these trainers, there's no doubt they will go up in value again in another 10-15 years' time when they come back on sale."
For older dealers, the new footwear trend (and prices) can be hard to fathom at times. Gordon White, a long-time textile dealer and picker from New York, says he heard about the trend from his son a couple years ago, when he traded a pair of old Converse basketball shoes for a hundred-dollar gift card to a colleague at a restaurant where they both worked. "I was simply flabbergasted," said White, "They didn't even have laces in them!" Since that time White says he's gone on to collecting vintage footwear full-time. "I've added this to my storefront display in a big way," says White, who concedes that his son's good business sense has been responsible for a huge uptick in the stores' overall sales. "Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined that something so smelly and dirty could be worth so much, but I guess that just proves that old dogs can still be taught a trick or two."
Robert Franks, one of the founders of Kick Game, a British company that specializes in rare and vintage footwear, says he thinks that most people simply aren't aware of how big the market really is for this kind of enterprise. "The secondary selling industry for trainers is massive - it's like watches and wine - and is the largest unregulated market in the world." Franks says that when a well-known company releases a limited-edition shoe, they'll often try to buy the entire lot in anticipation of strong short-term and long-term appreciation. "It's just gone berserk in the last few years. People end up camping outside shops just to get their hands on these shoes because they know as soon as they walk out of the shop with them, they are worth potentially three or four times the original price."
For others in the antique and vintage industry, coming on board with the new footwear revolution has taken some time. "I bought two pairs of loafers for my husband who didn't like them," says Jessica Alford, a regular on Etsy who shops almost exclusively in textiles, "but when I examined them closely, they turned out to be rare Gucci's, which I later sold for ten times what I'd paid." Alford admits she doesn't always win on the deal, but that she's getting much better at spying what will sell and what won't.
For those dealers still contemplating whether or not to jump into the burgeoning vintage and collectible shoe market, Noah Wunsch, Sotheby’s Global Head of eCommerce, probably summed it up best when asked about the auction houses' premiere sneaker sale, "This was our first trainer auction, and the incredible results are a sure sign that the market is growing, and that collectors are taking notice of trainers as objects of design. It's worthwhile checking to see if you've got any rare pairs stashed away."
That's certainly some sage advice for us here at the Institute also, as we're pretty sure there are likely to be more than a few people around the world sitting on a small fortune in a shoe-box tucked away in the back of their closet.
- AIA Staff Writers
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